ALTAMONT — Altamont Unit 10 will continue its search for a superintendent after “rather excessive” community backlash to the hiring of a former professional wrestler and Jerry Springer guest caused him to withdraw.
David Martin plans to remain in his current position as superintendent at the Tennessee School for the Blind in Nashville, Tennessee. He told the Effingham Daily News that he didn’t want to be a distraction in Altamont.
“The board was very supportive and wanted me to come up and still be the superintendent there,” Martin said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “But after the community responded in the way that it did, I just felt it was important for the community not to be a distraction and do what’s right for them. That’s why I asked them to be released from the contract.”
Martin said he wrestled professionally in Memphis and Nashville from 1996 to 2002, during a time when “The Jerry Springer Show” hired professional wrestlers as guests.
He said he appeared on the show in late 1999 or early 2000. The segment was called “Angry Lovers Attack.” Martin appeared as a man who stole the boyfriend of his own sister.
Martin told the EDN that storyline was scripted by the show’s producers. He considered it an acting gig, using the money he was paid for college textbooks.
Although he called the Springer storyline fiction, Martin is openly gay.
“Being a gay man, I have been encouraged by the progress made over the last several years, but there is still a long way to go in promoting tolerance and equality,” Martin wrote to the Unit 10 school board in his Feb. 14 withdrawal letter.
“I’m personally very sad that he withdrew his contract,” School Board President Shelly Kuhns said on Tuesday. “And I’m not speaking on behalf of the full board, only myself.”
“It saddens me because I was really excited about being a superintendent in a small community,” Martin said in the interview. “Ultimately, the things some folks in the community were upset about were over 20 years ago. I’m not ashamed of being involved in the professional wrestling business. It sort of helped shape who I am today.”
He said wrestling allowed him to meet a lot of people and learn how to interact with people from all walks of life. Martin said that as a professional wrestler and wrestling promoter, he donated time and resources to raise tens of thousands of dollars for charities, to folks who needed medical care, to volunteer fire departments and schools.
He said he was asked to appear on Springer by a wrestler he was working with on the wresting circuit in Tennessee.
A 2001 story by Adam Ross for the Nashville Scene headlined “Where Do They Get These People?” featured an interview with Martin, explaining in detail how he was recruited to be on “The Jerry Springer Show” and how its producers influenced the storyline.
“The story covered what went on behind the scenes at the show,” Martin said. “‘The Jerry Springer Show’ was a paid acting job. We were paid to just act it out. I used that money to purchase textbooks, because university textbooks aren’t cheap.”
He wasn’t planning a career in education at the time he was working in entertainment as a professional wrestler and making his appearance on the show.
“It wasn’t illegal or anything. I was just an entertainer,” Martin said. “I was ‘Flamboyant Faron Foxx.’ You can look at me and tell I wasn’t known for the athleticism I could bring. It was for the comedy of the show.”
A part of him regrets the Springer appearance, but he’s not ashamed of it.
“I was just working to finance my education,” Martin said. “The 43-year-old David Martin would definitely not take that booking, however the 22-year-old me saw it as something cool and exciting. I saw things differently at that time in my life. We’ve all done things that we would have done differently.”
Martin was finishing his bachelor’s degree from Tennessee State University when he appeared on the show. He also had a job as a legal assistant for Nashville injury law attorney Bart Durham, who was a fan of wrestling. While employed by Durham, Martin did stand-up comedy on open mic nights at Zanies in Nashville.
Martin said he became interested in wrestling as he was growing up in Tennessee. He was a member of his high school wrestling team when he was a freshman.
“It was just too real for me,” Martin said. “I liked the entertainment side of wrestling.”
Kuhns, the board president, said Martin’s educational background and experience in education would have been a good asset to the Altamont school district.
“I’ve been an educator for 15 years and I have a solid track record with students and it stands on its own,” Martin said. “I am a very highly educated and successful leader and my past hasn’t had any effect on my ability to be a school educator.”
Kuhns said the Altamont school board and the Illinois Association of School Boards are limited when it comes to considering a candidate due to liability issues. Kuhns said the board and IASB can’t use information from Google and social media searches to examine the personal background of potential candidates.
Kuhns said once Martin was hired on Feb. 8, he was added to the school board’s group email Listserve the following day.
“When you email the board of education, the superintendent is automatically included,” Kuhns said.
She said she was notified about the reaction of a few members of the community after Martin had been hired.
“We notified him as well that there was some opposition to his hire, because we obviously don’t want someone moving to our state and community and not be aware that there were community members concerned,” She said. “So we gave him that information as well.”
Kuhns said officials suggested he spend the week evaluating the situation and meet with the board on Friday. That would allow him to answer any concerns from community members.
“We hoped to bring him here for that meeting to address any of the community’s concerns, but the response of the community became rather excessive,” Kuhns said.
She said as the week went on, school officials continued to receive really negative criticism of Martin.
“He was uncomfortable with the community’s reaction,” Kuhns said.
The Illinois Association of School Boards in January provided Altamont with 22 candidates that were narrowed down to seven, including Martin, according to Kuhns. The board plans to see if any of the remaining finalists are still available and interested in the position.
Martin has been released from the contract that would have started May 1 and lasted until June 30, 2024. Interim Superintendent Jim Littleford will continue to hold the superintendent position until the school board hires someone else.